Damn Small Linux. The Minimal Linux Distro to Use for your Labs

If like me, you’re a fan of home labs to get your hands dirty testing different features that your learn during your training journey, you’ll want to check this article out. Most of the time while doing a home lab, testing network connectivity between your VMs is the main concern. No matter if you’re learning advanced technologies like how to deploy and configure VMware NSX, configure firewall rules in a Palo Alto virtual appliance, testing DHCP scopes configuration, …etc. You’ll always want to test if one of your VM is behaving the way you are expecting from network perspective, and the most use cases will lead you to do basic testing like ping, traceroute, or DHCP IP assignmnet or testing your internet browser connection.

Well! For such basic tasks, it would be good to use an VM that does not have a big footprint and consumes a lot of resources, especially if you’re using your home PC or laptop as your host. For this, I used to used Windows Server 2003 is it allowed me to use minimal RAM resources to make it up. Actually Win2k3 needs only 128 MB or RAM to be up and running, but the thing is that it needs a license key while installing, and operations like VM exporting/importing for future uses is feasible easy because of copy right issues. Because of that, an alternative solution was needed!

Damn Small Linux is a basic lightweight distro that can run with very less and minimal resources and is very useful if you want to test connectivity for a bunch of VMs all running at the same time. DSM  needs only 32 MB of RAM to run and offers the most common used software in Linux. Some of them are text editors like nano or Vim, File Managers like DFM and even Internet Browsers like Firefox or Dillo. To see the full list of the software available, check this link in Wikipedia.

Damn Small Linux can be found here. In this short article, we’ll install two Tiny Linux VMs in VMware Workstation, configure their IP addresses, and proceed with connectivity testing between them. Let’s get started.

Downloading Damn Small Linux

  • Go to http://www.damnsmalllinux.org/
  • Click on Download and choose a mirror to download the .ISO file. I opted to download the Release Candidate one, which is in version 4.11


Installing the DSM on VMware Workstation

Once the .ISO file downloaded, create a new VM and attach it to it.


On the Guest operating system, choose Other Linux 3.x kernel


On the Processor Configuration, choose only 1 vCPU.


On the Memory Configuration, assign only 32 MB to the VM


On the Disk Capacity, assigning 1 GB. Assigning a disk is optional. DSL does not use it, as it load directly to the RAM.


Check your configuration and click Finish.


Once DSL1 is created, you can simply clone it to create another DSL instance.



Power on DSL1, wait for the boot process to complete and you’ll have your OS environment ready to use


Customizing the DSL boot process

DSL boots up by default on the GUI mode, and it can be sometimes tedious to manage DSL from this mode because it can happen that the mouse is not captured very well by VMware Workstation. To avoid such kind of situation, we can force DSL to boot on the text mode, aka. Run Level 2.

To do so, power on DSL2 and while it is booting simply type dsl 2 when the splash screen is displayed. This will force the boot process to run the OS in text mode


Once loaded, you’ll have DSL in Run Level 2

DSL-Run Level 2

There you should be able to assign IP addresses and run common Linux Shell commands


After assigning the IP address, the DSL VM is responding to ping successfully from my Windows host machine.

DSL reponse to ping

If you want to go further with the boot customization, simply press F2 or F3 while DSL is booting and you’ll have more options to explore

DSL customization

F2 and F3 will provide you more options to customize you DSL machine.

DSL customization


That’s it. Shot and easy. Damn Small Linux can be very handy while doing your testing in your home labs, so give it a try and for sure you’ll love it.



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